Posted May 1st, 2000

Do You and Your Donors See Eye to Eye?

Most gift planners are aware that the number of older Americans is growing dramatically. There are currently more than 34 million Americans over age 65. In the next 20 years, over 70 million more people will turn 65, with that number including a large portion of the current donor base of America’s charitable organizations and institutions. The older segment of our population will continue to control unprecedented amounts of wealth. This is exciting news for gift planners who are adept at assisting older donors with current and/or deferred major gifts.

Will the eyes have it?

As millions of Americans grow older and wealthier, they will face a number of physical challenges. For example, in many cases their eyesight will to a greater or lesser extent be diminished. Because one of the ways gift planners will be communicating with older donors is through printed materials of various types, understanding the vision-related challenges that face the senior population could prove valuable indeed. After all, a creatively designed and informative brochure will be of limited use if your donors cannot read the copy and/or decipher the graphic art, or if older donors are unable or unwilling to read material communicated via the internet and other electronic media.

Most people experience some type of vision loss or deterioration by age 65. 1 Many vision problems are normal, age-related changes and others are caused by eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, and others. Let’s examine some of the most common vision problems and how to compensate for them through the use of specific design strategies.

Problem: One of the most common age-related vision problems—and often the first to set in—is farsightedness, which is caused by weakening muscles in the eye and typically begins to affect people in their forties. This vision problem makes small text more difficult to read because focusing at close range is impaired. This can include the challenge of focusing on relatively small type on a computer screen that is actually an image created by rapidly flickering light.

Solution: While bifocals can help correct farsightedness, gift planners can help older readers by making sure the text in letters and brochures is more legible. If the text in a printed piece is not large enough, readers are more likely to discard the piece unread.

For easier reading, print should have a point size of at least 12 or 13 points. Also avoid complicated or unfamiliar fonts. It is best to use a standard Roman or sans serif font with easily recognizable characters. Also avoid using all upper case lettering or all italics.

Problem: As we age, less light enters the eye because pupils become smaller.2 In addition, older eyes are more sensitive to glare.

Solution: To cut down on glare and increase readability, make sure the paper you use for communications aimed at older readers has a non-glossy finish. Extremely glossy papers may be attractive to younger eyes, but older readers could have difficulty seeing “through” the glare to the text. Some papers that may be particularly appealing to older eyes because of their non-glare quality are linens, offsets, and matte papers.

Problem: Color perception is often distorted because the lens of the eye thickens and yellows with age.3 In addition, a loss of cells in the retina can make it harder for older readers to see the contrast between two colors.

Solution: Using color with strong contrast is key to readability for older eyes. In most situations, the high contrast of black text on white background will work best.

When you employ other colors, it is best to use them as an accent for headlines or subheads. In addition, if you use two colors other than black and white, make sure they contrast sharply both in hue and in lightness. For example, bright red text on a bright pink background may be very difficult for older readers to see because the colors are similar shades and the same brightness. A better alternative color scheme would be a deep violet text on a light yellow background.

The yellowing of the lens often affects color perception as well. This yellowing tends to make older eyes less able to distinguish between colors on the blue end of the spectrum, such as blue and green. Therefore it may be wise to avoid using similar shades of blue and green close to one another as the two shades may be indistinguishable to an older reader.

It is also recommended to use high-contrast black and white photographs in printed materials for an aging population instead of or in addition to full-color photos. Why? Because when the lens become yellowish and color perception is impaired, readers may have difficulty distinguishing between the multiple colors in full color photos. “Older eyes are best able to see colors that come as close to total absorption of light (black) and total reflection of light (white) as possible,” says Dr. Herman Tacker, optometrist and former professor at Southern College of Optometry, Memphis. “Contrast is the key.” Therefore using high-contrast black and white photos will help ensure the clarity and sharpness that some full-color photos may lack.

Seeing things their own way

As the huge wave of baby boomers ages, this group of potential donors will likely be seeing things differently, both physically and psychologically. According to Mary Anne FitzGerald, research manager for the California market research firm Age Wave, “At every point in their lives, they’ve (baby boomers) changed history. Now they are going to reshape and influence how manufacturers are making their products. It’s a matter of looking at your packaging and advertising with a different eye.” 4

Since gift planners will be courting this group for years to come, addressing baby boomers’ needs as they age will become increasingly important. Making gift planning communications easily accessible through readable design principles may make a measurable difference in your fund development efforts. And, by making communications pieces more readable for your older donors, you will also enhance the reading experience of donors of all ages.

1 Patricia Braus, “Vision in an Aging America,” American Demographics, June 1995
2 Linda Sanford, “The Importance of Lighting for the Elderly,” Aging and Vision, Vol. 11, No. 1 Spring 1999
3 Sanford
4 Braus

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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